National Family Health Surveys (NFHS)
In a time when statistical data holds importance for evidence-based policymaking, the Union government’s response to statistical findings has been a cause for concern. The recent suspension of K.S. James, the Director of the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), which prepares the National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) and reports to the Health Ministry, raises eyebrows regarding the underlying motives.
GS – 02 (Government Policies & Interventions) (Health) (Gender) (Issues Related to Children) (Issues Related to Women) (Poverty & Hunger)
- About National Family Health Survey (NFHS)
- Critically analyze the government’s response to statistical findings and its impact on evidence-based policymaking in India. 150 words.
Overview of National Family Health Survey (NFHS):
- NFHS is a comprehensive, multi-round survey conducted in India, targeting a representative sample of households.
- The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has designated the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) Mumbai as the nodal agency to oversee and provide technical guidance for the survey. IIPS collaborates with various Field Organizations (FO) for the survey’s successful implementation.
- Each round of NFHS aims to achieve two primary objectives:
- To furnish crucial health and family welfare data required by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and other organizations for policymaking and program development.
- To offer insights into emerging health and family welfare concerns.
- The NFHS provides valuable state and national-level information on a range of aspects, including fertility, infant and child mortality, family planning practices, maternal and child health, reproductive health, nutrition, anaemia, and the utilization and quality of health and family planning services.
- The funding for various rounds of NFHS is provided by esteemed organizations such as USAID, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF, UNFPA, and the Government of India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW).
Dimensions of the Article:
- Hostile Approach Towards Data Release
- Burden of Truth – Data Suppression
- Undermining Traditional Statistical Institutions
- The problem of Census
Hostile Approach Towards Data Release:
- Recent instances of the government’s adversarial stance towards data release from its own agencies have emerged. For instance, the NFHS-5 (2019-21) challenged the government’s claim of achieving Open Defecation Free (ODF) status for all villages.
- 19% of surveyed households were found to have no access to toilet facilities, undermining the government’s claims.
- Other surveys, including the National Statistical Office survey of October 2018 and the National Annual Rural Sanitation Survey of 2019-20, further exposed the veracity of ODF claims.
Burden of Truth – Data Suppression:
- The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation’s decision to discard the 2017-18 Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES) citing data quality concerns raises eyebrows.
- Important indices like inflation and poverty continue to be tied to the CES of 2011-12, leading to a lack of updated and accurate information.
- The Periodic Labour Force Survey by the NSSO, which exhibited a stark increase in unemployment, faced delays in its release, indicating an attempt to conceal unpleasant realities. Such suppression of data undermines the credibility of statistical institutions and affects informed decision-making.
Undermining Traditional Statistical Institutions:
- The involvement of NITI Aayog in releasing GDP growth back series in contrast to an NSC report exemplifies the government’s efforts to undermine traditional statistical institutions.
- The interference of political entities in statistical matters raises doubts about the objectivity of the data and questions the integrity of the entire statistical system.
- Moreover, attempts to discredit methodologies used in surveys, such as the NFHS, by influential figures within the government further erode public trust in data-driven policymaking.
The problem of Census :
- The prolonged delay in conducting the decennial Census has cast a shadow on various statistical measures and programs that rely on Census information.
- Such unwarranted delays impede the government’s ability to accurately assess demographic trends, leading to ambiguities in policymaking.
- As the digital world expands with a surge of public data, it is imperative to have a robust statistical system.
- The government’s actions and decisions in this regard have contributed to strains and challenges within the statistical ecosystem.
- To ensure data integrity and facilitate effective policymaking, the government must adopt a more transparent and inclusive approach towards statistical data.
- It should embrace constructive criticism and engage in open discussions with statistical institutions to address concerns and improve methodologies.
- Safeguarding the autonomy and credibility of these institutions is essential for fostering an environment of trust and transparency in data analysis.
The government’s response to statistical findings reveals a concerning pattern of evasion and reluctance to accept inconvenient truths. The suppression and delayed release of data, coupled with attempts to undermine traditional statistical institutions, compromise the reliability of information vital for policymaking. To steer the nation towards evidence-based governance, the government must prioritize transparency, inclusivity, and the integrity of statistical data.